Do American Muslims Support Terrorism?

Article excerpt

Do American Muslims Support Terrorism?

Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans. By David Schanzer, Charles Kurzman, andEbrahim Moosa. Washington, D.C: U.S. Department of Justice, 2010. 61 pp. Free download.

Schanzer and Moosa of Duke University and Kurzman of the University of North Carolina have garnered a fair amount of media attention for their study despite its complete methodological failure. Anti-Terror Lessons asks some good questions in assessing the level of radicalization among American Muslims and identifying mechanisms to counter radical ideology. But the authors' approach to answering these questions evinces a lack of rigor that renders the report's conclusions untrustworthy.

The problems begin with a failure to define terms. A report about radicalization (a word that appears ninety -nine times in its pages) obviously must define that term; what constitutes radicalism is by no means self-evident. The authors' reliance on two contradictory datasets makes this problem even more acute.

One set consists of more than 120 interviews conducted in Buffalo, Houston, Seattle, and Raleigh-Durham to gather information on American Muslims' attitudes toward terrorism and their anti-radicalization efforts. The authors conclude from these interviews that "MuslimAmericans do not support terrorism directed at the United States or innocent civilians." They concede that "some of our interviewees were less quick to condemn other acts of violence outside the United States," but because the project was intended to focus on domestic terrorism, they "did not attempt to gauge the extent of this support or probe interviewees on these issues."

The other set includes data on American Muslims who since 9/11 have either perpetrated a terrorist act or have been sought, arrested, or convicted of a terrorism-related offense involving violence. However, the study's appendix of "Muslim- American Terrorism Offenders" includes the names of perpetrators whose acts related solely to violence outside the United States, such as the Lackawanna Six and twenty individuals involved in Somalia's Al-Shabaab recruiting network. The failure to probe interviewees on attitudes directly related to the data set on terrorist offenses amounts to sheer incoherence.

At times Anti-Terror Lessons reads more like an advocacy brief than academic research, drawing sweeping conclusions from insufficient evidence. The report's discussion of "public and private denunciations of violence" argues that there has been "active denunciation of terrorist violence" by "senior Islamic scholars in the United States and the Middle East." Some denunciations of violence are indeed quoted but without providing a complete picture that might call into doubt either the sincerity or scope of these statements. For example, the veiy firstfatwa cited in the report's section on denunciations of violence - a document that condemns the 9/11 attacks and affirms the need to "apprehend the true perpetrators" in order to try them "in an impartial court of law" - boasts Yusuf al-Qaradawi as its lead author. Anti-Terror Lessons does not mention that Qaradawi has also proclaimed that Muslims "killed in a military operation aimed at expelling American occupation forces from the Gulf are martyrs and sanctioned suicide bombings against Israelis.1 Anti-Terror Lessons favorably cites the Muslim American Society's (MAS) denunciation of the 7/7 transit attacks in London but fails to mention either MAS's curriculum (which includes the works of such Islamist ideologues who have advocated violence against the West as Sayyid Qutb, Sayyid Abul ala Mawdudi, and Hassan al-Banna) or its publication of The American Muslim, which has published afatwa declaring that suicide bombings directed at Israelis are "not suicide and should not be deemed as unjustifiable means of endangering one's life."2 Likewise, the authors uncritically quote a condemnation of terrorism issued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations without noting the group's many ties to terrorism and extremism more broadly. …